Matthew 4:18-20 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Good morning. It’s a privilege to be with you today. I’m Pastor Kevin Hundley – I serve as a partner to your pastors through the WELS Ministry of Christian Giving. There is some more information about me in your worship folder. But you didn’t come to church today to hear about me. You came to hear what your Savior has to say to your life today. So let’s explore that as we hear Him speak to us through Matthew chapter 4 today.
As Pastor Zarling and I planned this day, he shared how this month is special one for the congregation. January 30 marks 90 years of God’s grace to your congregation. What a ministry milestone!
Church anniversaries are wonderful times to pause and reflect. You get to take stock and trace out just how far God has brought you! His strength and mercy have carried you through trouble and trials! That track record of grace brings the response, “Thank you Lord!”
That look to the past allows you to confidently face the future. God has placed Racine before you as the harvest field of souls you get to tend. God has more He wants to reach through you. More need His mercy and forgiveness.
Service to the Savior. Sharing His promises with others. The road ahead of your congregation sounds like the task God calls: DISCIPLESHIP. But what’s really involved with discipleship? What is God calling us to be and do? Those are important questions to consider as you plan and work together for the work that lies ahead for Epiphany Lutheran Church. So today, let’s explore what’s involved with discipleship as Jesus invites men to “Come, Follow Me!” Servants of Jesus who are Called & Sent by the Savior.
Maybe your first reaction to hearing today’s Gospel lesson was like mine. It sounds like a brief history lesson. As Jesus starts his public ministry, he invites a few guys to follow him. Jesus would be the teacher. Those followers would be his students. Simple enough. At least that’s how it sounds to us. BUT if you were a Jew living in Jesus day, this section of Matthew 4 would have been shocking to you. You’d quickly realize no one picked disciples the way Jesus did. This would make you sit up and take notice.
But to feel the weight of what Jesus is doing we need to travel back to Jesus culture and see this event through their Jewish eyes. So for the next moments, let’s travel back to Jesus day and explore the Jewish educational system. An understanding of that system will help us gain an new appreciation of what discipleship meant for them – and what it means for your congregation today.
When we hear that term “disciple” we tend to think student. But in Jesus day that term had a deeper, weightier meaning. A disciple was the follower of a religious teacher – a rabbi. And the disciples goal was greater than just gaining knowledge. The ultimate goal of a disciple was this: a disciple wanted to become just like his rabbi.
The Jews of Jesus day were followers of the Torah, the words God dictated to Moses – the first five books of the Old Testament. Torah means “the teaching” or simply “the Way”. This is THE WAY God calls us live. So those first five books were the heart and core of the Jewish educational system.
At about age 6, boys and girls went to school for the first time to learn Torah. Typically, they would go to the local synagogue and attend lessons taught by the local Torah teacher or rabbi. This first level was called BEIT SEFER – meaning the House of the Book. Usually it lasted until the kids was 10 years old. The goal of Beit Sefer was to have the child memorize the Torah. Every word known by heart. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy MEMORIZED!
At the end of Beit Sefer most kids ended their time in formal school. At age 10 they were apprenticing, learning a business or trade. They were learning from their parents how to manage a household or the family business. But the best of the best students would continue their studies. The next level of study was called BEIT TALMUD – meaning the House of Learning.
In this time of study, students would learn the rabbi’s tradition of questions and answers. Remember 12 year old Jesus at the Temple? He was discussing questions and answers with the religious leaders. That’s a part of Beit Talmud, and those teachers at Jerusalem – possibly the wisest guys in all of Israel were amazed at Jesus learning.
The other goal of Beit Talmud was MEMORIZING the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. Memorized so well that the rabbi could recite a passage and the students should be able to tell the rabbi what passage came before or after that passage. Imagine knowing the whole Old Testament by heart! Talk about living and breathing the Word of God!
Beit Talmud ended around 14 or 15 years old. For most kids that was the end of their education. It was time to run the family business or work their trade. But for a small few there was one more level of study. A level reserved for an elite few. Only the best of the best of the best ever achieved it. It was called BEIT MIDRASH – meaning the House of Study. During Beit Midrash a 14 or 15 year old kid would go to a rabbi and apply to become one of his disciples.
Again when we hear disciple we often think student. Someone who wants to learn what the teacher knows. But in Jewish culture being a disciple meant something far deeper. A disciple didn’t just want to know what the teacher knows – a disciple wants to be just like the rabbi. He ultimately wants to do what the rabbi does.
Rabbi’s differed in how they interpreted the Torah. One rabbi might say this is what you must do to live out a particular verse of the Torah or follow a particular command of God. Another rabbi might say “no, I interpret that verse a bit differently.” A rabbi’s set of interpretations was called that rabbi’s “YOKE”.
So when you went to apply to become one of that rabbi’s disciples, you wanted to take that rabbi’s yoke upon you. You wanted to learn to know what the rabbi knows in order to do what the rabbi does in order to be like the rabbi.
So you’d go to the rabbi and say, “Rabbi I want to become one of your disciples.” Then the rabbi would grill you with questions about the Torah, with questions about the prophets, and questions about different teachings. The rabbi wants to know if this kid can do what he does? Can this kid spread my teaching – my yoke? Is this kid the best of the best? Does he have what it takes?
To those who didn’t make the cut, the rabbi would say, “You obviously love God and you obviously love Torah but you don’t have what it takes to be one of my disciples.” He might say, “Go, continue learning your father’s trade, go get married and have children and pray someday that they will grow up and be a rabbi - but as far as you are concerned – it’s not going to be you.”
BUT if the rabbi thought, this kid has got it. This kid is the best of the best. He can do what I do. That rabbi would say, “Come, follow me!”
That 14 or 15 year old kid would then leave his family, friends, synagogue, village and devote his entire life to being like his rabbi. He would learn to do what his rabbi did, because ultimately he wanted to become just like his rabbi. This is what it means to be a disciple in Jesus culture.
So maybe you are seeing some huge implications for Jesus’ ministry and some amazing things He is doing in Matthew chapter 4. Matthew records that teacher, rabbi Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee one day and comes across Peter and Andrew, two fisherman, and says, “Come! Follow Me!”
But wait, if they were fisherman and Jesus calls them to be his disciples – then they aren’t following another rabbi. If they weren’t following another rabbi, these guys weren’t the best of the best of the best. Somewhere along the line they didn’t make the cut. Somewhere along the line they were labeled as not good enough.
And once Jesus says, “Come, follow me” they drop everything and do it! I always thought that was a bit odd, didn’t you? But if you understand it in its original context it begins to make perfect sense. Rabbis were the most honored, most respected, most revered people anywhere. Only the best of the best of the best got to be rabbis. And this rabbi comes down the beach, stops, looks them in the eye and says to you, “Come, follow me!”
Do you see what he is really saying? “I think you can do what I do!” He is saying, “you can be like me!” Of course they would drop everything and follow Him.
Are you beginning to see how this would be shocking to a Jewish way of thinking? It seemed like rabbi Jesus was doing everything wrong. Jesus stepped into the lives of nobodies, the not good enoughs, the ones who didn’t make the cut and said, “I want you!” Nobody did that. Nobody that is, except Jesus!
Have you ever feel not good enough? Like you don’t measure up? Like your life is a mess so you aren’t worthy of anyone’s love? Well you’re in good company. You’re exactly the kind of person Jesus is looking for as a disciple!
Jesus didn’t pick you to follow Him because you were worthy of that invitation or deserved it. Jesus picked you because you needed his help, his mercy, his deliverance. You see discipleship isn’t really about what we can do for Jesus. Instead Jesus is more concerned about what He can do for you! So Jesus stepped into your life just as surely as he did with Peter and Andrew and says, “I have something for you! Come, follow me!” That invitation came at your baptism. It comes again through Word and wafer and wine. God comes with amazing mercy and full and free forgiveness. “Take my yoke upon you… it’s no burden – it’s lite – because I will do all the work needed to rescue you for heaven! My son, my daughter – be at peace and follow me!”
And why did God do this? Luther taught us that answer. “All this God did that I should be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom – and SERVE Him!” Serve Him as His disciple – by making more disciples! “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Isn’t that the story of your congregation? God invites the unworthy and unexpected to be His children. He covers them with His love and forgiveness. And then He sends them out to share with others the gifts He has given.
That’s the story of the church. God calls the nobodies, the ones that didn’t make the cut, the JV, the B team, the not good enough to be His own. And through them God changes the course of human history. “Come follow me – and go make more disciples!” What amazing love and faith God has in you! What amazing work God does through you!
That is why I’m here today. I’m here on behalf of your brothers and sisters in Christ – a partnership we call the Wisconsin Synod - to say “Thank you!” Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your support. Thank you for efforts in making more disciples here in Racine and around the world through the work of the Synod.
Did you know that on average your congregation gathered close to 360,000 dollars for the Lord’s work here in your congregation? And as a congregation you usually share around 3% of those gift – just over $10,500 - for the work of the Synod. On behalf of the other congregations of our Synod - thank you for your partnership and assistance!
I’m here to tell you what that gifts have done. Your gifts to the WELS have supported World Mission work in 23 mission fields serving over 135,000 souls. From refugee camps to the South Sudanese in Ethiopia, to house churches in China, to bush churches in Zambia and Malawi, to a Spanish language website serving over 10,000 people a day on the internet.
Your gifts have supported Home Missions, helping 115 congregations in North America. For mission churches in Fenton, MI to Las Vegas, NV where work is being done with people from Korean & African. To college campus served by WELS campus ministries.
God has blessed you, so that you can be a blessing as your gifts help train over 1,500+ future Gospel ambassadors – future pastors and teachers studying at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Martin Luther College, Luther Preparatory School, & Michigan Lutheran Seminary. God will use this year’s graduates to harvest souls throughout the world.
Your gifts support resources for over 500 (524) Lutheran schools, marriage retreats, worship conferences, youth rallies, a series of outreach movies, gospel-based service to 80,000+ prisoners and ministry to our military personnel. And much, much more!
God is very busy. Hearts and lives are being changed. But there is much more to do – and you personally can be a part of that. To that end of supporting and sharing our worldwide Kingdom work - the WELS provides my services to you. I assist the members of this district in the grace of giving.
If God has resourced you and moved you to want to support a particular mission field or ministry above and beyond what your congregation already does – I’m here to offer you free, confidential assistance.
If you would like assistance in planning for that day when you no longer need your earthly things since God has called you home to your heavenly mansion – I have a partner Rick Kneser who offers you free, confidential assistance in preparing your estate plan or will.
Today you heard Jesus amazing invitation, “Come, follow me!” Words usually reserved for a select few. The bet of the best of the best. And Jesus offers that invitation to you. His mercy and forgiving love make you worthy of that invitation. He never tires of reminding you, “I made you mine! Your baptism is proof. Be at peace!” What an invitation to come and be filled with God’s blessing.
And filled with those gifts God says, “Go and share! Make more disciples! Be my hands, and heart and lips to invite more to know my mercy and forgiveness!”
May the God who has carried you this far – continue to carry your congregation forward in the days to come. Celebrate His amazing invitation to “Come and follow!” And God be with you as you go and share – both here in Racine and around the world with your partnership in the Synod! To Him be the glory, now and always! Amen!